Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Review of Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction (1994)

The 90's brought us many great films, and 1994 was arguably the crowning year of that decade. It brought us The Lion King, Shawshank Redemption, Ed Wood, Forrest Gump, and most importantly, it brought us Pulp Fiction. Pulp Fiction is inarguably Quentin Tarantino's most popular and well-liked film and judging by what I've read, it is arguably his best. I haven't seen any other Tarantino movies besides this, so I can't say if it is his best, but what I can say is that Pulp Fiction is pretty damn good. But Pulp Fiction is also a damned tricky movie to review because everything great that could possibly be said about it has likely already been said, so this review will likely be a re-iteration of what pretty much all of you know. However, I can still say that Pulp Fiction is well-acted, extremely well-written, well-directed and just plain awesome through and through.


Pulp Fiction has the task of telling three stories, as well as a prologue/epilogue, all intertwined and sharing several characters in common, over the course of one really fucked up day in LA. The first involves two hitmen named Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) who visit the residence of several unassuming men who have some business dealings with a man named Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). It turns out they have stolen a briefcase containing something very valuable. This briefcase pops up several times during the movie, and its contents are a popular talking point amongst fans of the film. Some say it contains the stash of diamonds from Reservoir Dogs, some say it merely contains gold, Tarantino says that it's "whatever the audience wants it to be", but many (myself included) say that the briefcase contains Marcellus Wallace's soul. This scene also contains several of the most memorable quotes ever put on film, like Ezekiel 25:17 and several conversations about sexy foot massages (pointing out Tarantino's very obvious and self-admitted foot fetish)
and how a Quarter Pounder is called a Royale with Cheese in Amsterdam.

Vincent has been told by his boss, the same Marcellus who owns the mysterious briefcase, to entertain Mrs. Wallace for the evening, since Marsellus has some money tied up in a boxing match (as is shown by the prologue to that scene where Marcellus is talking to Bruce Willis' character about throwing the fight. Willis' character will be expanded upon in the second story, but we'll get to that later. Vince goes to the house of his drug dealer Lance (Eric Stoltz) to buy some heroin, and then he arrives It is here where we are introduced to the character of Mia, Marcellus' wife played iconically by Uma Thurman. She and Vincent go out for dinner at a 50's throwback restaurant called Jackrabbit Slim's and talk about various things from the TV pilot that Mia was in (where it was clear that Tarantino and Thurman had started thinking up their idea for The Bride, who would come seven years later) to $5 milkshakes to the fact that Marcellus threw someone out a window for allegedly giving Mia a foot massage. After Mia and Vincent win the twist contest, they go back to her house and while Vincent is in the bathroom, Mia finds the heroin in Vincent's coat pocket and mistaking it for coke, she snorts it and starts to OD. 

Knowing that his ass is grass if Marcellus finds out that Mia overdosed or worse, if she died in his care, Vincent takes her to the home of Lance and Jody, where he and Lance argue about who is going to give Mia the adrenaline shot. Before Mia and Vincent part ways, they agree not to tell Marcellus about the whole incident, because Mia would be in as much trouble as Vincent. This puts an end to the first story and transitions us into the second story, entitled "The Gold Watch". The story starts out with a flashback, where a military man played by a scene-stealing Christopher Walken goes to give a gold watch to the son of his fallen military buddy. Even those who haven't seen the movie have probably heard the line "I hid this uncomfortable hunk of metal up my ass two years", and this scene is where that infamous line came from and this is where Christopher Walken steals the show until it is brought back into the present.

We learn that the little boy grew up into Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), who we first saw accepting money from Marcellus in the empty cocktail lounge in exchange for him throwing the fight. It is now that we learn that the exact opposite. Not only did Butch win the fight, he killed his opponent. Knowing that his ass is grass if he is caught by Marcellus, Butch goes back to the motel where he and his girlfriend Fabienne are staying and he makes plans to leave the next morning. These plans seem to go off without a hitch until Butch finds out that Fabienne forgot to pack his father's watch. Butch goes back to his apartment to get the watch and runs into Vincent. I won't tell you what happens, but Butch then runs across Marcellus and circumstances lead them both into what I can only describe as a hilbilly S&M dungeon. After the infamous gay rape scene (I won't say more for those who haven't seen the movie), Marcellus and Butch declare themselves even on the whole fight thing, so long as Butch leaves town.

The third story takes us back to Vincent and Jules. After the whole shooting and bible-passage scene, Jules and Vincent are shot at by another guy hiding in the bathroom. Jules sees the fact that they are not dead as a sign of divine intervention, and makes the decision to retire from the hitman business. They drive off with one of the surviving associates and a gun accident results in said associate being shot in the face. Having just shot a man in a car in broad daylight, Jules and Vincent are in serious shit. They go to the house of one of Jules' friends, a guy named Jimmy (Quentin Tarantino himself) , but there is a problem. Jimmy's wife is about to come home from the graveyard shift at the hospital and Jimmy is anxious she should not encounter the scene.

To prevent Bonnie from finding the dead body and the gangsters, Jules contacts Winston Wolfe (Harvey Keitel) to help clean up the scene. Harvey Keitel, like Christopher Walken in the story before him, proceeds to totally steal the show while instructing Jules, Jimmy, and Vincent how to clean up the scene. They clean up the car, dispose of their bloody suits, and after getting rid of the car, they decide to go for breakfast, which brings back the subject of Jules' retirement. Inside the same restaurant are the two criminals/lovers from the prologue (played by Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer, whose characters are known as Pumpkin and Honeybunny) who were talking about how robberies are more difficult to commit in gas stations and convenience stores because they are all family businesses and those families are always too prepared, and how robbing a restaurant would be much easier because they are not expecting to be robbed. Pumpkin and Honeybunny rob the restaurant, but Jules kind of intervenes in the chronological climax of the film. As opposed to just killing them like he would have before his epiphany, he talks down the robbers and as his first act of redemption allows them to take the money and leave.

Before Quentin Tarantino got into directing, he got into writing, and it definitely shows here. Tarantino has managed to establish himself as a good director, but he is a writer first and foremost, and with Pulp Fiction, he has created one of the best scripts of all time. Why I found the story somewhat difficult to describe was that most of the movie is made up of conversations. To any standard viewer, that would sound boring as shit, but with Tarantino it is different. Pulp Fiction is oftentimes hilarious and a masterpiece of dark comedy (amongst many other things). The film has also produced some of the most memorable scenes ever put onto film. But as opposed to repeating myself saying how great the script is, I'll say how iconic the lines have become by listing a few you all should know (abridged of course, most of these lines come with full monologues).

"I hid this uncomfortable hunk of metal up my ass two years"
"Does he look like a bitch? DOES. HE. LOOK. LIKE. A. BITCH"
"What, never been to that country before, do they speak English in what?"
"Say what again, I dare you, I double dog dare you motherfucker"
"And you will know my name as the lord, when I lay my vengeance upon thee"

All of you, even those of you who haven't seen the movie, have heard of those lines some way or another, unless you have been living under a rock. This is definitely due to the spread of the internet, which has helped make the film one of the most quoted movies of all time. This film won Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars (the only Oscar it won, which has pissed off countless a film buff) and the award was definitely deserved, as like I said, I consider this one of the best scripts of all time.

One of the things I like about it is that, though the events that happen over the course of the film are far from ordinary, the conversations all centre around the mundane. There are conversations about Europe, how a Quarter Pounter is called a Royale with Cheese in Europe, sexy foot massages, how people have become too prepared for robberies, awkward silences, and how pigs are filthy animals (which is why Jules doesn't eat pork). So much of the film focuses on the mundane, which makes it unique in a way that film has yet to duplicate, at least to my knowledge and which Tarantino hasn't seemed to duplicate yet (or so I have read and so you guys say, as I haven't seen any of his other movies yet).

Besides having one of the best scripts of all time, Pulp Fiction also manages to produce some of the finest and most memorable performances as well. First, there are the Oscar-nominated performances from Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, and John Travolta. This film skyrocketed the three of them into the A-list, cementing Jackson's status as a superstar and an expert at playing badasses as well as his working relationship with Quentin Tarantino. It also cemented Thurman's working relationship with Tarantino, as well as her status as his muse, and it gave John Travolta's career a boom twenty years after Grease and Saturday Night Fever. All three give great performances, Travolta and Jackson arguably the best. In essence, Jules and Vincent are the main characters, and they are the characters that have the deepest characterization.

That is where a tiny bit of flaw can be spotted in Pulp Fiction. The characters, while certainly memorable, are not particularly deep outside Jules and Vincent, and are mostly used as a device to tell story and have conversations. Not that it's at all a bad thing, but it shows that Quentin Tarantino, not unlike Christopher Nolan, is more of a story and dialogue man as opposed to a character man. However, Jules and Vincent are excellently characterized. We see over the course of the movie that Vincent is generally incompetent without Jules, mostly because he is a drug addict and spends so much time on the crapper that every time he comes back from the bathroom, shit goes down (not that way, but if you see the movie you'll understand). That reminds me, those who have yet to see the movie should keep an eye out for bathrooms, because every time a character comes back from the bathroom, an important event in the movie happens. We also sees that Jules is a more efficient hitman before his epiphany because he lives a generally clean life unlike Vincent, who is close to being a doddering incompetent load without Jules.

The rest of the performances are excellent, some fine examples being Ving Rhames as Marcellus, who is chillingly badass, even after the hilbilly S&M dungeon scene, Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer as Pumpkin and Honeybunny the robbers, and Christopher Walken/Harvey Keitel in their one scene each. Tarantino himself doesn't do that bad a job either, although it is kind of weird hearing the n-word come out of the mouth of a dweeby white guy. I didn't really talk about Thurman as Mia Wallace (who looks much prettier and definitely more striking as a brunette in my opinion), and I'd say that she definitely deserved her Oscar nomination, but despite her dominating the promotional materials of the film, she's actually in it very little outside the one story about her and Vincent. She gives a great performance though, worthy of the fine ensemble cast this film has.

Sprawling, lengthy, and very wordy (just like this review), Pulp Fiction is definitely a cinematic landmark and one of the most influential films of the 1990's. It was definitely snubbed at the Oscars (although not snubbed entirely, it did win the Palme D'Or, much to the surprise of many). It is a film that warrants multiple viewings and I am very glad that I own it so I can watch it many times. This is on the list of movies that any respectable film buff has to see to be considered a film buff, and by seeing this film, I am one step closer to being a true film buff. Anybody who hasn't seen this needs to put it at the top of their priority lists and see it as soon as possible. I don't even think I can sum it all up in just one viewing, so I'll definitely have to watch it again. I just can't run out of good things to say about this movie, but I'm going to close now by saying that I only have to see Shawshank Redemption to complete my viewing of the true essence of 1994.


10/10- Must-See, Instant Classic


  1. Terrific review of one of the greatest ever films, Rachel. If you can, please check out my review on this film.

  2. Terrific write up! Over time, the film becomes better in memory with all it memorable quotes and performances. It is simply an amazingly fun film.